Creative writing

2022: A year of Irish adventures

If 2021 was a year of change, 2022 was a year of new adventures: I published my first novel. I got to grips with living in a new country. I started a new business. I turned 50 (that still hasn’t sunk in). And I became a doggy daddy.

Writing a novel is hard, publishing is difficult

Blood River cover

I love the creative process, from conceiving a story and writing the first draft, all the way through group critiques, editing and revising, to getting beta feedback for the final draft. Though I didn’t always know where I was going, I enjoyed every step, whether it I was in my own creative bubble or working with other writers and readers to see it from angles I couldn’t imagine. Even when I slimmed the bloated novel back to a novella, it felt right.

But self-publishing? That’s difficult. At first it seems like too much to learn: which platform, how to format an ebook and paperback, what sort of cover does it need, how long does self-publishing take, where can I find ARC readers, when should I release it, when should I publish it and how can I promote it?

The r/selfpublish subreddit was an enormous help. Dozens of other websites demystified the process, piece-by-piece. I tried to take it step-by-step, but the process seemed to go on forever and become more complicated at every stage. Yet when it happened, it happened in a rush.

I still call Blood River a success. It was always an experiment and great reviews from my ARC readers dispelled the worst of my imposter syndrome. Modest sales came close to breaking even. Most of all, I’ve learned a lot for the next time. I dropped the ball on promotion and I’ll have to see if I can pick up some sales in 2023.

It’s even more rewarding when I think about the background noise of 2022. We lived with kind friends for six weeks this summer while our home was being renovated. When the builders, plumbers and electricians were done, it had to be redecorated from top to bottom. We rolled the stone up that hill just in time for Covid to finally get both of us (and we were grateful for being vaccinated). As the summer retreated, a shit-ton of bureaucratic nonsense, too tedious to detail, sucked up my life for a good chunk of the autumn.

2022: settling in

Achill Island, Mayo.

Ireland became my home in 2022. I’d been here for three months when the year arrived, but most of that felt like simply moving in. As the year warmed up we explored Portlaoise, our first visitor came over from the UK and I explored the hinterland. Laois may not be Ireland’s most famous tourist destination, but there are lovely towns and countryside on our doorstep.

The Slieve Blooms are a magnificent mixture of farmland, rolling heathered hills, managed plantations and forests allowed to run wild, crisscrossed by well-marked paths for walking and cycling. It’s where I’ve also found a setting for a sequel to Blood River, close enough for plenty of research to give it that lived-in feeling. Although I hoped to use the November Nanowrimo to sprint through a first draft, now I’m targeting the April Camp Nano. It will be another bloody romp, cheerfully plundering Irish folklore’s dark spirits for inspiration.

We travelled west for a late summer holiday. Achill Island is a windswept isle 50km towards the Atlantic from Westport, blessed with sandy beaches and stunning views. We camped for a week and saw a year’s worth of weather, but I’d go back for longer to explore the henges and megaliths — ancient and modern.

As 2022 ended, I turned 50, so it seemed like a good idea to celebrate for a month. A trip home to see family was followed by hosting old friends in Ireland. The pandemic had kept us from getting together since 2020, but it didn’t take long to be back in the habit of drinking, eating and late nights of talking nonsense.

Reading for writers

Unfortunately, 2022 also taught me that writing novels won’t pay the bills anytime soon, so I have decided to use my skills for something new: The Good Reader. I’ve always enjoyed being an editor and performing critiques for my fellow writers in writing groups, so it seems like a natural step. All the same, it’s a sacrifice of time that I’d spend on writing in an ideal world.

The Good Reader provides reader reports for writers at every stage of their journey, from opening chapter critiques to the final beta read. One problem I’ve found as a writer is getting enough people to read an entire book and deliver feedback. Established authors can recruit readers from their followers, but there’s a glaring catch-22 for new writers. Hopefully, there are enough writers out there who feel the same and will pay for good feedback.

Reading isn’t difficult, but reading for work differs from reading for pleasure. I’m reading on a deadline, making notes as I go, but I don’t want to lose the reader experience — whatever that is — which my clients need.

I’ve set up The Good Reader for a hard launch in the New Year, with promotion across writing groups on various social media. I’m looking forward to helping other writers find their way to publishing a first novel…or a second…or a third.

Layla’s early arrival

Layla, our black lab pup
Say hello to Layla.

As for the doggo, Layla is a year-old black lab, given up by her first family for health reasons. As an adult, I’ve always enjoyed being with dogs and my partner grew up with them around her. It seemed like the natural move to open our hearts and home to a pooch who needs a family.

The only complication was that we thought the adoption process might take months. It took less than a fortnight! Cue a week of frantically finishing the jobs we’d left undone so that our home would be doggy-ready.

She’s an adorable bundle of cuddles and play, so I can’t say that having her is difficult…but I’ve never had a dog before, so this is unfamiliar territory for me. Like any new parent, I want her to be happy.

Fortunately, the open spaces and accessible countryside surrounding Portlaoise are just what a dog like Layla needs. We work at home, and writing is a career that demands you get out and about to empty your mind. At least, that’s my excuse when Layla looks like she wants to go out and play.

2023: the year of self promotion

Blood River launch flyer
There’ll be a lot more of this in 2023.

If there’s ever a good time to promote a new business for writers, I guess it isn’t just before Christmas. When the turkey’s been picked to the bone and there’s no more auld lang syne to sing, I’ll start pushing The Good Reader out to social media.

I’ve also got a hit list of locations to promote Blood River, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing and self-publishing forums it’s this: the best way to sell your first book is to finish the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that. Readers like a back catalogue. It puts writing into perspective as a long-term career, but it also gives me a lot of time to learn. After all, I’m only halfway through my first century.

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